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New director brings insights for hate studies

Kristine Feeman Hoover, the new director of Gonzaga University’s Institute of Hate Studies, said the program seeks ways to support practitioners and academics who are doing work in the field of hate studies in the community and internationally.

Kristine Hoover

Hate studies, she said, is a multidisciplinary field that has impact on and is impacted by disciplines including business and leadership, communication, criminal justice, law, political science, religious studies, and women and gender studies. 

As a complex field requiring inclusive learning and research, it takes many conversations to help people understand each other.

“Sometimes when we are surrounded by people who are similar to ourselves, it can be easy to make assumptions about who is like me and who is an ‘other.’  It’s important to recognize people in their diverse and multiple contexts, understanding where they are in their journeys by engaging in difficult conversations in order to grow and keep learning in every stage of life,” she said. 

“Difficult conversations are beyond differences of opinion.  They require truly listening,” Kristine said.  “Differences of opinions are healthy, so we need to listen with respect—to both hear and be heard.  Difficult conversations challenge us to understand ourselves and others.

Kristine believes it is important to create safe spaces for conversations, because discomfort may be where the greatest learning happens.

For the master’s degree in organizational leadership and its new global concentration, she teaches a course in leadership and imagination, organizational ethics, organizational development, organizational change and transformation, and management.

Kristine brings a research background in raising questions about how words and images that organizations use shape the inclusion and dignity of people, a dynamic that can create hate or respect through the power of self-worth, social identity and economic opportunity.

After earning a degree in architecture from the University of Cincinnati in 1991 and master’s degrees in business administration and in organizational development from Bowling Green State University in 1999, she completed a doctoral degree in leadership studies in 2009. 

In addition, Kristine did a semester of undergraduate study in Copenhagen, Denmark, where she gained “lived experience” in one of the world’s most egalitarian societies. 

She came to Spokane in 2009 to teach organizational ethics and organizational change at Gonzaga, drawn by its mission to “serve men and women for others.”

After John Shuford, the institute’s former director, left, she began as director this spring.  The several directors since 1997 have each had different emphases.

Academic Vice President Patricia Killen and Associate Academic Vice President Ron Large of Religious Studies say the institute is unique, adding value to conversations on hate through research and teaching.

Kristine, who grew up United Methodist and raised her three sons Presbyterian, said that her mother-in-law, who taught at Old Fort, Ohio, helped start an immigrant education program that had impact on the lives of immigrants who came from Mexico and Texas to pick tomatoes.  The children did not have access to textbooks or consistent time to go to school, because they migrated with their families.

“My mother-in-law’s commitment to education as a right has been compelling,” said Kristine, whose formative experiences included time with her grandparents on a Central Ohio dairy and grain farm.  In the rural community, they shared dinner with the farm workers regardless of their background.

“For me, the idea of human dignity is ingrained, even though I graduated from Bowling Green High School that had just four African-American students in a class of 200,” she said.

For a high school paper, she interviewed an African-American nurse who shared about his life.  He told of his frequent experiences  in the 1980s of people crossing to the other side of the street when they saw him coming.

Even though Kristine walked the same paths, she was not aware of anyone crossing the street just because they did not want to share the sidewalk with her.

“It was a formative experience that spurred my curiosity,” Kristine said.  “Why do we see some people through a lens of fear and others with an assumption of goodness or neutrality?”

When she applied for a doctorate and wanted to do research on diversity, her advisor said, “We’ve already covered that.” So Kristine shifted to leadership studies and built on the idea that relationships are central and that organizations—both for profit and nonprofit—are significant sources of self-worth, social identity and economic opportunity.

“My doctoral research looks at developing awareness of the power of words and images, and their connection to organizational ethics and culture,” she said.

“For a class exercise, I asked students to list words and phrases that included ‘black’ or ‘white,’ and then indicate a positive or negative connection. It was compelling to see the free association of words,” she added.

“Language in organizations and some political speeches has different meaning to different parts of society.  It can be helpful or hateful,” Kristine said.  “We are exploring our own awareness of how the same organizational communications can impact how we engage with others.

“The first step is awareness of the power of language and understanding that receivers hear messages differently:  How do we develop greater empathy and understanding?  How do hurtful, hateful messages help us understand what dialogue is? How does this contribute to dialogue in a complex world? How do we reflect on the ease in which we learn how to make ethical decisions relating to how we treat people in our organizations?  How does our narrative reflect the ethical perspectives we claim?” she asks to helps students recognize the power in the use of words and images.

Kristine examined how websites of businesses and institutions of higher education depict people related to their abilities, gender, age and race to communicate inclusivity. 

What is strategically included or excluded? How is the body shown—face to the front or sideways? Who is at the front of the picture and who in the background?  Is someone grasping an object strongly or delicately?  Is someone more scantily dressed? 

“All people have dignity, so why are there differences in images?” she asked.  “If we think the playing field is level and all have equal access, why are those in power shown in different ways?

“Some claim diversity is not an issue, but people of color and women are still disproportionately represented related to power,” she said. “In messaging about how to be educationally and economically empowered in the workplace, who is at the table?”

Unless images are inclusive, she said businesses and nonprofits will not have “access to the greatest talent to create the greatest good.” 

To show people with some characteristics and not others by default  includes and excludes, Kristine said, asking people to be intentional about these decisions.

She imparts that understanding through teaching and the institute.

After John left the institute and before she started, the Institute looked at its board structure and talked with faculty further about integrating it into campus life. They sought to energize the board in research and teaching to align their expertise with the mission.

Kristine has met with leaders of other organizations, such as the Human Rights Education Institute and Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations (KCTFHR) in North Idaho, the new Spokane County Human Rights Task Force (SCHRTF) and the Interfaith Council.

The annual Journal for Hate Studies publication is still a priority, she said.  The fall 2016 volume will focus on research on dissent, such as that of the Westboro Baptist Church.

For International Peace Day on Sept. 21, Kristine planned forums for faculty and students with members of North Idaho College, Whitworth University and Community Colleges of Spokane.  David Smith, a former member of the U.S. Institute for Peace, will lead events on peace pedagogy for higher education at Gonzaga.  He will tell faculty about career and professional peace jobs.  He will also be in dialogue with students from the local universities.

There will be two public events: a Community Sing at noon, Sept. 21, at the Hemmingson Center, and a Peace Flag Ceremony at 6:30 p.m., that day in the Hemmingson rotunda.

For information, call 313-3665 or email

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